Celebrating Easter

Local church leaders discuss the significance of the holiday

Sunday morning the children of the First Baptist Church in Craig waved their palm branches and sang a song of Hosanna.

The mesmerizing crests of the exotic plant sent some back to a time 3,000 years ago when the man they called Hosanna, Jesus Christ, was welcomed into Jerusalem with palm leaves lining his entrance.

The week that followed the ride into Jerusalem is one of the most talked about weeks in the history of the world. According to the Bible, the final days of Jesus came after the welcoming of the palm branches. This week, the church community prepares for the culmination of the seven days after Palm Sunday, which is Easter Sunday.

"Everything Jesus did in the last week of his earthly life has significance," said Pastor Brian Haynes of First Baptist. "The ups and downs of the week are something that we try make everyone remember and think about. It is important to engage people in the reality of the events that happened so long ago."

The traditions of Holy Week vary from each congregation. These are a few of the traditions that occur at some churches in Craig.

"My hope in all the craziness that is happening in the world around us is to make people realize that there is peace," said Pastor Phil Gibson of the Friendship United Methodist Church. "The Holy Week is to show people that there is hope beyond them and that God is with them."

At the beginning of Lent each year, Gibson hands out a booklet to each member of his congregation to read during the 40 days until Easter Sunday. This year's booklet was written by an author who, according to Gibson, "knows what it feels like to wander and feel lonely." The readings end on Easter Sunday and Gibson said the goal is to show them the hope that Easter Sunday brings.

Throughout the week there are several church gatherings. At 8:30 p.m. on Holy Thursday, Gibson conducts a service in which he washes the feet of his congregation. The process is done to model what the Jesus did it after the Last Supper the day before his arrest.

"Jesus did this to show he was no greater than the servants," Gibson said. "I do it to say I'm no better than Jesus and that I'm the servant of my church."

Friendship United Methodist Church also has a Good Friday service at 8:30 p.m. The church has a unique situation in that it shares a building with St. Mark's Episcopal Church and The Lutheran Church of Grace. Easter Sunday they will have an ecumenical sunrise service with all three congregations. The service, at 7 a.m. will be located at Wesley Drive and Oak Street in Craig. Gibson said it will be a short, simple service to recognize, "Death and darkness does not have the last word as the sun rises on Easter."

The building that houses three congregations will have three Easter services. St. Mark's Episcopal Church's service will begin at 8:30 a.m., followed by Lutheran Church of Grace's service at 9:35 and Friendship United Methodist's fellowship will be at 11 a.m.

In his message on Sunday evening Mass at St. Michael's Catholic Church, Father Roger Lacelle addressed his congregation about the week ahead. He stressed that in order to have peace, joy and love, there must be personal sacrifice. A message he said that pertains to the events of the Holy Week.

"Jesus overcame evil with forgiveness, love and sacrifice," he said. "We have to look at our own lives and not fight evil with evil, but with caring and love."

That is what Lacelle hopes Christians will learn from the week. At St. Michael's, there will be four services leading to Easter Sunday. The Holy Thursday service at 5:30 p.m. commemorates the last supper Jesus had with his disciples.

On Good Friday, there is a 5:30 p.m. Mass focusing on the journey of Jesus to the cross that day. At 8 p.m., there will be an Easter Pageant for the Hispanic community of the church. The pageant explores the different stations of Jesus on Good Friday.

"The pageant represents the culture of the Hispanic community," he said. "It celebrates the experience of faith through reenactments."

Saturday night, after the sun has set, the church holds an Easter vigil. A candle is lit to represent Jesus and it is the only light present in the church.

"In the ancient church, the vigil was held all night to see if there would be the second coming of Jesus," Lacelle said. "If he didn't come, the rising of the sun on Easter morning represented the hope for the next year."

On Sunday there are three Easter Masses at 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

"The three events of the week are all important to experience," Lacelle said. "There can't be the joy of Easter Sunday without the sacrifice of Good Friday. Just like on Earth, the only joy that isn't instant gratification comes from self sacrifice."

At the end of the Sunday service at the First Baptist Church, the extra palm branches were handed out to members of the congregation as a reminder of the week ahead.

"With symbolism like the palm branches, it helps draw people to the story," Haynes said. "It is the most significant week in the Christian Church and each day carries importance."

At First Baptist Church, there will be a Good Friday service and on Sunday before the regular Easter service there will be an Easter breakfast.

"Sunday morning is a great time of fellowship," Haynes said. "It is to celebrate how excited those who saw Jesus after finding his empty tomb. Really we should all wear empty tombs around our necks instead of the cross because that is where the miracle was realized."

During the Sunday service at First Baptist Church there will be an Easter drama depicting the events in what Haynes described as a "very moving show."

"This is the most celebrated Sunday of the year," he said. "I'm sure in congregations all throughout Craig everything will be beautiful."

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